French president Nicolas Sarkozy has launched a personal Twitter account and geared up for a prime-time TV appearance amid expectations he will at last announce his re-election bid.
Mr Sarkozy, whom many blame for France’s economic troubles, has for months trailed Socialist nominee Francois Hollande in the polls.
Many pundits say Mr Sarkozy needs to recoup some momentum to stand a chance of winning the two-round vote starting in April.
To most observers, Mr Sarkozy’s candidacy has been more a question of “when” than “if,” and some suggested his deficit in the polls has accelerated its official start.
Socialists sought to play down the expected announcement as a non-event and to paint Mr Sarkozy as a permanent campaigner anyway. Mr Sarkozy’s allies spun it their way, saying the president will now be able to break apart Mr Hollande’s platform.
Mr Sarkozy’s looming candidacy has become one of France’s worst-kept political secrets. Media reported his Paris campaign headquarters are ready to go, with about a dozen presidential staff to move over, and he is widely expected to attend rallies for his UMP party in the Alpine town of Annecy on Thursday, and Marseille on Sunday.
On his new Twitter page he thanked all those “who will kindly follow me”. Five hours after the first tweet on “Nicolas Sarkozy”, it had gained 32,000-plus followers. Mr Hollande’s “fhollande” already has over 146,000 followers.
Mr Sarkozy’s second tweet mentioned how he was planning to go on TF1 television for France’s most-watched nightly newscast.
France’s two-round presidential ballot in April and May is likely to have an impact throughout the European Union. Mr Sarkozy has been closely involved in the fight to save the euro amid a sovereign debt crisis in the bloc.
Pollsters suggest that Mr Sarkozy’s political problems are as much of his own making as France’s economic woes.
Poll figures by IFOP agency show the biggest slide in his approval rating occurred during his first year – from 67% in July 2007 to 41% in March 2008 – and months before France was swept up in the fallout of the international financial crisis.
Critics say Mr Sarkozy failed to deliver on promises to improve purchasing power, raised his own salary, and infused the gilded presidential palace with “bling” that was ill-suited for France’s cultural self-image.